Richard Thorp: Actor best known as reformed character Alan Turner in 'Emmerdale'

 

When Richard Thorp joined Emmerdale Farm in 1982 as Alan Turner, manager of NY Estates, he quickly gained an onscreen reputation as a boozer and womaniser. Off screen the actor found himself treated on a par with "nasty" JR Ewing of Dallas, taxi drivers refused to pick him up and he once managed to empty a tea room in Harrogate simply by walking in. Nine years later, the Yorkshire soap opera's baddie had mellowed and become the genial landlord of The Woolpack pub – and a bit of a buffoon. The serial itself changed, too, when its title was shortened to Emmerdale and the stories become more raunchy.

Thorp was the programme's longest-serving actor, recently celebrating 31 years in it. He once told me over a generous slap-up restaurant meal that the money and job security enabled him to dine out regularly. "I've always loved my food and enjoyed good wine," he said. In the process, Thorp ballooned to more than 18 stone.

His character's dramas included a failed attempt to reunite with his estranged wife, a broken engagement with his secretary, Caroline Bates (Diana Davies), and a marriage to a former prostitute, Shirley Foster (Rachel Davies), that ended in tragedy when she was shot dead in a post office raid.

Alan sought a quieter life after suffering a mild heart attack in 1999, selling the pub and later running The Grange B&B. But there was further drama when his daughter Steph, played by Lorraine Chase, arrived under the pretence of seeking reconciliation after a 20-year absence, then tried to kill him.

Six years ago Alan resolved to retire and live a quieter life at Keepers Cottage with his friend Betty Eagleton (Paula Tilbrook). His storylines became fewer as Thorp's own health deteriorated. In 2009, the actor had a knee-replacement operation and bemoaned the following year: "I'm more like the village memorial now than an active character."

An earlier generation would recall Thorp from 1959 to '61 in the popular hospital drama Emergency – Ward 10 as the suave heart-throb Dr John Rennie, who romanced Sister Carole Young (Jill Browne). The producer told him he could have the part if he lost weight within six weeks. "I lived on black coffee and fizzy water," Thorp told me. "I was so dizzy I kept bumping into things, but I got the role." Thorp's character was catapulted to his own series, Call Oxbridge 2000 (1961-62), giving him a new life as a GP in a country practice, and another spin-off, 24-Hour Call (1963).

Born in Surrey, Thorp had childhood ambitions to act but started working life writing advertising copy for his father's shoe business, Lily & Skinner, including the line "Men's shoes that men choose". At the same time he performed in amateur dramatics, and being sacked by his father for frequent bad time-keeping enabled him to train at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

After theatre work, Thorp's big break came in the Second World War RAF film drama The Dam Busters (1955) when he was cast because of his resemblance to Squadron Leader Henry Maudslay, who died in the real-life raid on Germany. In the same year he played Barbara Lyon's boyfriend, Derek, in the first television series of Life with the Lyons (he was previously in the BBC radio version). The sitcom starred an American family headed by the showbusiness husband-and-wife team Ben Lyon and Bebe Daniels.

Thorp also played John Caldwell, the ship's second officer, in another sitcom, All Aboard (1958-59). Then, while in Emergency – Ward 10, he met the actress Maureen Moore, who played Nurse White, and she became his first wife in 1960.

His other films included The Barretts of Wimpole Street and The Good Companions (both 1956) and in the early 1960s, between acting jobs, he ran a wine business. But television soon became Thorp's most regular source of work. Apart from one-off roles in drama series such as Danger Man (1961) and The Avengers (1963) and the sitcoms And Mother Makes Three (1973) and To the Manor Born (1981), he acted the market inspector, Martin Pruner, in the ITV serial Market on Honey Lane (1967), with the title shortened to Honey Lane for the second series (1969).

He returned to soap as Vera Downend's Merchant Navy sailor boyfriend, Doug Randall (on and off, 1973-75), in Crossroads, leaving after complaining about the pay. In the final series of The Cedar Tree (1978), a 1930s period drama, he played Geoffrey Cartland. Though he appeared in the West End in Murder at the Vicarage (as the vicar, Fortune Theatre, 1977) and Moving (Queen's Theatre, 1980-81), Thorp rarely took theatre work. "I don't like doing the same thing night after night," he said. "I have the most appalling stage fright. I get sick."

Apart from good food and fine wine, Thorp's great love was motorcycles and for many years he rode on one to the Emmerdale studios. He was the proud owner of a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide 1340cc – "the sort of thing they escort American presidents with," he said. Thorp, who suffered a heart attack in 1994, was married and divorced three times, lastly to Noola Delany, a floor and location manager in films and television.

Anthony Hayward

Richard Stanley Thorp, actor: born Purley, Surrey 2 January 1932; married 1960 Maureen Moore (marriage dissolved; two sons), 1968 Lynn Mellish (marriage dissolved; one daughter), 1980 Noola Delany (marriage dissolved; one daughter); died Shrewsbury 22 May 2013.

Life & Style
life
Arts & Entertainment
tv
News
news
Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Homer meets Lego Marge in the 25th anniversary episode of The Simpsons, set to air on 4 May
tv
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
healthTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
News
news
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Arts & Entertainment
film
News
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
news
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey gets the North Korean leader's look
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
Life & Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 63rd anniversary of the Peak District National Park
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Energy Consultant – Building Management

up to £45,000 + benefits: The Green Recruitment Company: Our Client The Green ...

Senior Industrial Energy Consultant

Up to £45,000 + benefits: The Green Recruitment Company: Our Client The Green ...

Mechanical Building Services Energy Engineer

up to £45K basic + benefits: The Green Recruitment Company: Our Client The Gr...

Building Services Energy Engineer

up to £45K basic + benefits: The Green Recruitment Company: Our Client The Gr...

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal